Sitting in his office overlooking the Inner Harbor, he shook his head sadly and said, "This is no way to live. It's a really tough situation for me. My knees hurt all the time. Now my back and legs are hurting from overcompensating for the knees. That's only going to get worse. And my family's main concern is all the medicine I'm taking. How is that going to affect my liver and kidneys?

"I just want to be able to play with my daughter. But right now, I'm on so much medication that I can't focus on her. Isn't that sick? I have to really concentrate to try to be able to focus on my daughter."

The Seahawks drafted McCrary out of Wake Forest University in the seventh round of the 1993 draft. Scouts admired his drive and intensity but thought he was too small; he weighed 240 pounds in an era when 300-plus pounds had become a routine playing weight for linemen.

McCrary beat the odds, using his quickness to outmaneuver larger linemen. He became a starter in Seattle and signed with the Ravens as a free agent in 1997. He was at his peak in the late '90s, a fierce presence who rattled quarterbacks and controlled his side of the field. He was so dominant that the Ravens signed him to a five-year contract extension with a $12.25 million signing bonus in 1999.

By then, he had already undergone four knee surgeries since joining the Ravens. Operating against double teams by 300- pounders, he used his knees to explode off the line and generate leverage.

"I was giving up, like, almost 400 pounds," McCrary said. "My only choice was to generate more leverage. My knees couldn't take years of me doing that."

Though he used a wheelchair for two months after a 1999 operation, he was able to maintain a high performance level on the field for several more years, he said, by rehabilitating ferociously, having fluid removed and taking several cortisone injections a year. Cortisone is a legal steroid used to treat inflammation.

The Ravens' medical and training staffs never pushed him to take shots, McCrary said, and always advised him about the dangers of taking too many.

"I have nothing but praise for the Ravens," he said.

`Passion for the game'

He remains close to the franchise; he volunteered to help coach defensive ends at training camp last year and hopes to do so again this year, he said, even if it means taking cortisone injections.

When McCrary was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor in 2004, Ravens coach Brian Billick said, "He had a constant motor and huge passion for the game. He was all about the game, and anybody around him recognized that."

McCrary said he received a cortisone shot in Tampa, Fla., before the Ravens' Super Bowl victory in January 2001.

"It was the biggest game of my life," he said, smiling and shrugging.

But cortisone shots didn't repair the damage; they just enabled McCrary to keep playing despite worsening knees. By the 2001 season, arthritis had set in and there was little cartilage left.

McCrary recorded eight quarterback sacks in the first 10 games of 2001, but the throbbing in his knees was so intense that he had to sit out the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, a depressing capitulation.

It was after the third game of the 2001 season, a Ravens win in Denver, that McCrary began to confront his condition. His mother, Sandy, an attorney, was in attendance and spoke to Ravens nose tackle Tony Siragusa while she waited for her son after the game.

"Tony said to me, `Do you know Michael is having 35 ccs of fluid taken out of his knees at every game?'" Sandy McCrary recalled. "I had sort of been out of the loop regarding his condition. Michael and I had a long talk after that."

At his mother's suggestion, Mc- Crary saw two orthopedists not involved with the Ravens or the NFL. Both said he shouldn't be playing and, in fact, should have retired years earlier.

"That was a stunner," McCrary said.